Domino Effect – Parallel Track 2

Warning – this post will be very raw and may contain items that people find offensive but they will be true from my point of view and memory.

In this series of posts, I will share dominoes that touched me.  I remind you, dear reader, that the items you are about to read are true from my own point of view and may be uncomfortable for some to read. I am writing about my journey not to place blame but to help me heal and maybe help someone else struggling with a similar journey.

DOMINO Track Two:

As I mentioned in my last post, my parent’s divorce changed the layout of the domino pattern of my life.  During this time, the layout consisted of two parallel tracks.  One track was life with my dad while the other was with my mom.  I consider them parallel because I was the one balanced between the tracks.  In reality, the worlds were very different.  Track one focused on life with my dad.  Track two begins now.

Last time I mentioned that the house my family lived in while my parents were married was sold as part of the divorce.  My parents would move into very different neighborhoods. Another significant difference is my mom moved in with a man, Fred*, who was in his sixties…she was in her mid thirties.  This is not a value judgement.  I mention his age because I think it impacts how he interacted with my sister and me.

I don’t have any real memory of the first place they lived in together but it feels like it was a short time.  By the summer of 1984 we moved out of the city into a suburb area that was still in its township status. The Garden Woods apartment complex was very nice.  It had a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, playground, open quad field space and a nice clubhouse. Compared to my dad’s place, this felt very upscale. Somewhere in this time frame, my mom was awarded custody of my sister and me. This move did impact where we went to school.  It was scary moving from the church and school I had known my whole life up to that point.  The new church was huge in comparison to our previous one.  The school just a little bigger.

Fred lived with us for almost two years.  During that time he did some really nice things for us.  He was retired so he had time to teach mom, my sister and me how to dive and swim in addition to how to play tennis.  His mannerism was very formal so he also taught us proper table settings, etiquette and manners.  We weren’t heathens. He just had a more formal way about life.  He was very neat and insisted on everything being in its proper place. When I think of that time now, I realize I learned a great deal from Fred.  As I mentioned in a previous post my anxiety was very high at this point in my life.  Fred taught me some basic yoga, self-hypnosis and meditation.

Mom worked a lot of hours and we would only have her for the early part of the day.  She worked an evening or closing shift at a local grocery store. Even though Fred was retired, he was not always home.  He had grown children and young grandchildren that he would go spend time with.  There were many days where I would be in charge of getting my sister and myself off the school bus, into our apartment, out of our school uniforms and begin homework.  Some times I was even in charge of getting dinner started.  Fred would take care of these things when he was there. He bought us an encyclopedia set so we could have it for school work.  That may not sounds like a big deal today but in the mid 1980’s that was an expensive item.

In early 1986, mom and Fred began arguing when my sister and I were out of the room.  I didn’t know what the arguing was about and it was never outrageous.  I just remember loud voices. Nothing that made me afraid for anyone’s safety. This is a very important distinction from what was about to come.  That spring Fred moved out.

Shortly after Fred left, mom sat me down for a talk.  She said, “You are eleven years old now and I think you can understand what I want to talk with you about.” I admit that I was scared for what she was about to tell me.  This conversation would be a pivotal domino.  She told me that the man she had been dating would be moving in with us. Side note – I did not know she had been dating anyone.  His name was Ted* and he had a girl my age named Gina*.  Gina lived with her mom but Ted would have her every other weekend like my dad had us.

Mom also told me that Ted smoked marijuana. I was FLOORED!  This was the height of Nancy Reagan’s “Say No to Drugs”  campaign.  We watched Miami Vice and the people who smoked that were arrested.  I remember asking her if she was crazy bringing drugs into our home.  Yeah, I may have been only eleven but I was so upset and didn’t put a filter on my mouth.  Mom said that it was no big deal and that many people I knew smoked it.  Again…..FLOORED!  I was terrified that this man was moving in and that I was going to be arrested because there would be drugs in our home.  I also knew that from that moment on I would be forced to lie about my home life.  I would not feel safe letting people in to find that secret.

Shortly after Ted moved in, Gina was able to spend some time with us since it was the summer.  We were both really shy but since we were the same age, we figured out that we had things in common.  We began a friendship that was very important to me. I had someone who already knew the secret and could commiserate with about it. Gina shared that she was a bit worried about how long this would last since her dad had lived with and dated other women before my mom.  Little did I know then that Gina would be her own domino in just a few years.

By the fall of 1986, we moved out of the apartment and into a rental house. It was in the same area so we didn’t have to change schools with that move. When I asked why we were moving, mom said, “Ted doesn’t like apartments. They are too small.”  Little did I know that this deference to Ted’s likes and dislikes would dominate the rest of my childhood.

Ted was very different from Fred.  Ted didn’t want to interact with my sister and me.  We were expected to do our chores, do our schoolwork, be quiet and never bother our mom. Ted also drank.  When he would have too much, he would get very loud and we learned quickly to not do anything to trigger his anger when he had been drinking. As you can imagine, Ted is a domino.

*Denotes a name is has been altered.

Reminder: This is a very raw experience for me but I will continue with the next Domino soon. Again, my hope for sharing this journey is that someone will see they are not alone in their pain. My hope is they will see my healing and learn it is possible to accept yourself and even love yourself. Until the next Domino, treat yourself with kindness….you are worth it.

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